Have you ever watched an episode of Avatar: the Last Airbender?
Personally, I rate it as one of the most groundbreaking series to hit our screens. Ever. I grew up with Aang just as I did alongside Harry Potter; yet, I would weight this anime series with greater bearing on my outlook on life.
The show celebrates its ten-year anniversary this year. In the world of Avatar, creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino created a group of teenagers with the ability to bring about change in an uncertain world. By doing so, they challenged our generation to re-assess our own lives and capabilities in a similarly unstable world.
The premise of the show is the ability to control the four elements: air, water, earth and fire. One individual, the avatar, is able to wield all four elements. The avatar spirit is reincarnated throughout successive generations, and provides a natural balance to the world. Although these powers are not accessible to young adults in the real world (much as magic is neither), the show challenges preconceptions of ineffectualness universally held in our society regarding young adults.
Viewers relate to the characters’ strengths, their weaknesses, and see the products of determination and self-betterment, always in the unwavering pursuit of adventure.
It’s no wonder that what began as a series targeted at adolescents, quickly gathered an older following.
Then, the Avatar team released The Legend of Korra, with protagonists of a comparable age to the main fan base. The show followed Korra and co. from their late teens into their early twenties, arguably the period of greatest change in an individual’s life. With an older avatar, Konietzko and Dante DiMartino upped the ante. Korra’s world exposed young adults to the theologies of communism, theocracy, anarchism and facism. Of course, there were the old stalwarts of capitalism and monarchy, too. But what set Legend of Korra apart was its accurate representation of the diversity of our world. It snubbed the typical, blinkered version of reality typically spoon-fed to adolescents in today’s media. Instead, it presented strong characters of all colours, genders and sexual orientation. The show’s female characters were complex, strong and dynamic. They kicked some serious ass.
When the show’s finale aired just before Christmas last year, my love of this franchise soared even further. Korra, the avatar, departs for the spirit world with her friend Asami, on an adventure: “just the two of us.” Leaving no room for misconstruing the ending, Konietzko and Dante DiMartino publicly announced their intent: “Yes, Korra and Asami have romantic feelings for each other,” and “you can celebrate it, embrace it, accept it, get over it, or whatever you feel the need to do, but there is no denying it.”
This is why I love the Avatar franchise. It creates a world where differences are celebrated, diversity championed, and labels shrugged aside. Within the spectrum of characters, it’s possible to see a hint, a reflection, of yourself. Most importantly, it gives you permission to be that unique, wondrous self. It presents the youth of today with an emboldened sense of self and their place in the world, something we definitely need more of.
So, if you’ve never seen an episode, I recommend you do. Just avoid the terrible movie attempt by M. Night Shyamalan. You’ll thank me later.